ESPN8: The Ocho’s Return Shows The Value Of The Long-Tail In Sports


Arguably Mark Twain’s most famous quote is “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Sports movies put this adage to the test with strange plots that would “never” happen in the sports industry. Yet, it appears that many sports movies’ attempts to be “strange” have actually been strangely predicative of important future industry strategies. 

In a previous post, we discussed how a deleted scene in the movie Major League released in 1989 first foretold of the type of Moneyball analytics used by the Oakland A’s in 2001. The third anniversary of ESPN’s broadcast of ESPN8: The Ocho on Aug. 7th is the culmination of another example of movie fiction leading to sports reality.

The Ocho was a fictional satire of an ESPN network that solely broadcast obscure sports in the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Even though ESPN then (and now) has multiple networks, it would not make sense for the company to broadcast an obscure sport such as dodgeball in 2004 because the audience would be too small.  

This idea is actually the crux of the long tail concept. In his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More published in 2006, Chris Anderson demonstrates how, “how the future of commerce and culture isn't in hits, the high-volume head of a traditional demand curve, but in what used to be regarded as misses--the endlessly long tail of that same curve.”

The Ocho concept of targeting a large number of small audiences using a long tail approach is now at the heart of over-the-top sports media platforms.  The best example of this approach is the rise of FloSports. Launched in 2014, FloSports has “has rapidly grown its content line-up to more than 10,000 live events annually by catering to underserved sports and audiences” through its OTT platforms. FloSports has grown rapidly and recently secured $47 million in funding to continue to implement this long tail strategy.

FloSports’ success has likely played a role in ESPN’s decision to transform ESPN2 into The Ocho for one day every August since 2016 (and also to launch its OTT platform ESPN+). This year the company will be featuring “traditional favorites” such as “The Amazing Games, Premier League Darts, World Sumo Challenge, Burger Eating and Spikeball.”

The main change for The Ocho this year is that ESPN will for the first time broadcast a live event with the 2019 World Cornhole Championship, a tournament that has both a US bracket and an International bracket. This appears to be very similar to the movie version of The Ocho which broadcast the fictional ADAA Las Vegas International Dodgeball Open in 2004.  

While the similarities of the real and parody Ocho are very funny (or eerie depending on your point-of-view), the long tail is something to be taken seriously in the sports industry. More specifically, the success of FloSports and other OTT platforms like DAZN demonstrates the increasing importance of fit and engagement when it comes to sports media content. 

However, the long tail strategy is not just limited to sports media. The long tail is one reason why the value of finding fit and engagement when it comes to sponsorship is at the heart of the B6A Corporate Asset Valuation Model (CAV).

There are two applications of the long tail concept when it comes to corporate partnerships. First, the success of FloSports shows how smaller properties can articulate sponsorship value. While audience sizes are smaller, smaller sports properties’ fans are so passionate that they are willing to buy a FloSports subscription to view the content. This effect of customers voting with their dollars is a demonstrable level of engagement that larger sports cannot always achieve or prove in this way.

Second, an increasing number of companies are looking for opportunities where they can focus on a small audience that will value a specific activation. While reaching large audiences is still desirable for many corporate partners, having unique experiences that are the partnership equivalent to The Ocho for a small number of a company’s best customers or employees can have an even greater impact on its top or bottom line revenue growth.   

ESPN may never create The Ocho as a full-time network. However, even a company as large as ESPN that focuses on broadcasting the largest sporting events in the world has begun to see the value of the long tail sports audience. The potential power of the small audience should not be lost on those working in the sports sponsorship industry as well.